Remote Support: Dartmouth Gives Back to Local Businesses

by Christina Baris | 4/15/20 2:05am

Whenever I get homesick at Dartmouth, I reminisce about my favorite places in my hometown. I think of midnight diner runs, hour-long conversations in my favorite cafe and the bagel shop that meets my notoriously high bagel standards. These places are as essential to my hometown as the people that inhabit it. Local businesses give my New York suburb its charm and sense of community. 

Unfortunately, small businesses are among the many victims of the economic crisis caused by COVID-19. Businesses around the country have been forced to temporarily shut down, and many small business owners are unsure about the future of their company and employees. According to a Goldman Sachs survey conducted between March 16 and March 17, only 13 percent of small business owners surveyed felt confident in their contingency plans for the pandemic. In response to the pandemic, the U.S. Small Business Administration has seen its funding increase from $20 billion to $50 billion. However, government action only goes so far. In many cases, essential support comes from the communities these businesses serve.  

On March 31, the Dartmouth Library announced on Instagram that it would hold a competition to help support Still North Books & Bar, a local Hanover bookstore that opened this past December. The competition encouraged students, staff and faculty to send in pictures of their best remote study setup for a chance to win a $50 gift card to Still North. From March 31 to April 11, the Library’s Instagram page was full of unique pictures of study setups from members of the Dartmouth community all around the world. 

According to library communications manager Tom Remp, the competition was a great way for the library to keep in contact with students and help the Dartmouth community feel more connected while simultaneously supporting a local business. According to Remp, he received multiple submissions each day and was surprised by the high quality of the photos.  

“I’ve been blown away by just the openness and thoughtfulness of our students and community members,” Remp said. “I think it’s great to see the students’ creativity coming through these images, and we’re incredibly thankful for everyone who took the time to take part.” 

Allie Levy ’11, owner of Still North Books & Bar, was grateful for the competition, emphasizing that this period is very difficult for small business owners. 

“Businesses have had to adapt really quickly to find alternate revenue streams to make sure that we can still pay the most basic operating expenses that don’t go away just because there’s a pandemic, like rent and utilities,” Levy said.  

Still North Books & Bar closed for browsing on March 18, although it initially remained open for curbside pickup and local delivery. In just over a week, however, Levy had to transition the bookstore into a completely online business.  

“We’ve had to adjust really quickly and go from a business that was focused entirely on the in-store experience to a business that is operating entirely online. As a result, we have been forced to lay off most of our employees with the hopes that we’ll be able to hire them back,” Levy said.  

Levy added that because her employees were laid off early, they could hopefully gain access to unemployment benefits more quickly. Moreover, she said  that the quick shift from a bustling local shop to an online business has been lonely and confusing.

“It’s been really hard and really strange and sad to all of a sudden be this quiet, empty space with just me fulfilling orders,” Levy said.   

According to Levy, gift cards are one of the best ways for people to support small businesses right now. However, there are many other small things people can do to help.

“Keep purchasing online or over the phone, and follow the businesses on social media because we’re all working really hard to let our customers know how they can support us and the means through which we’re taking orders — because it is different for every business,” Levy said. 

Levy also emphasized that people should look to local stores and businesses for their daily needs, rather than order online from large companies or distributors. 

“Think local before you decide to purchase from Amazon or another big online retailer if you’re able to, even if it’s not a local business that’s in your immediate community,” Levy said. “We’ve had orders from people around the country.”

This is certainly true for Dirt Cowboy Cafe, a Hanover coffee shop that has become heavily reliant on its online orders. An international customer who regularly orders coffee beans from Dirt Cowboy posted an image on the “Women of Dartmouth” Facebook page of an email from the owner who expressed his gratitude at her continued support. He wrote, “We are always grateful for our online orders, but especially today. With the shop practically out for the count, the website and our online customers are our lifetime.” The post has since garnered hundreds of likes, with many commenting that they plan to order online from Dirt Cowboy, too.

Rachel Hsu ’23, one of the winners of the Dartmouth Library competition, noted that she spends a lot of her time at Still North Books & Bar while on campus, so she was excited for the opportunity to support the business. According to Hsu, food-ordering services like Snackpass and Grubhub are delaying charging restaurants a fee for delivery during the pandemic. This policy may incentivize people to order more food delivery from local restaurants, since they know that the restaurant will receive a larger cut from the order. These small actions may not seem like a lot, but they still mean something.

“It’s the little things,” Hsu said.

While the consequences of the pandemic are confusing, stressful and scary, it is encouraging to see community members supporting each other through hard times. As Remp emphasized, it’s important to give back when we can. 

 “There [are] a lot of great opportunities to help people right now,” Remp said. “I think that if we have the opportunity to do so, we should.”